The recently released United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) rapid assessment survey for 2007 is a snapshot that identifies early trends in cultivation. It shows a mixed picture. It suggests that cultivation is down in the north; stable in the centre and west; but heading up in the south and east, including in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Nangarhar. It is too early to predict overall cultivation levels for 2007, but if these trends are bourne out, it shows that Afghanistan may be facing another year of high poppy cultivation. Security challenges, insurgent activity and the lack of extension of rule of law continue to present obstacles toward poppy elimination. The survey also shows similarities with last year’s pattern of cultivation, with a levelling off or reduction in areas of improved access to governance, security and development.
The threat from drugs to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development ranks alongside the threat from the Taliban. There are no quick or simple ways of dealing with this problem. The only way to reach a sustainable solution is to deal with the full range of causes. The Afghans know this, but need the international community’s help to make it happen. The Afghan Government’s national drug control strategy (NDCS) is the right approach. It includes measures to reduce the cultivation, production and trafficking of opium. Progress is being made. We are working with the Afghans to build up the criminal justice system and we have helped establish the counter-narcotics police force and the Afghan special narcotics force. In the last year and a half we have seen the passage of vital counter narcotics legislation, the conviction of over 320 traffickers, and an increase in drug related seizures. With the support of international partners a community led programme has been established to develop alternative rural livelihoods that have so far reached some 8.5 million rural Afghans.
Opium poppy eradication plays an important role in the overall strategy. It can have a deterrent effect for poppy farmers in areas where there is access to alternative legal livelihoods. Eradication on its own will not solve the drugs problem. But it is an important part of the comprehensive strategy when balanced with measures to interdict drugs, bring criminals to justice, build institutions and encourage development of rural communities to provide alternatives for poppy farmers. Eradication implementation is the responsibility of the Afghan Government and they have expressed their determination to carry out robust eradication through manual and mechanical means.
There are no silver bullets. There have been suggestions that the opium poppy crop could be used for licit medical purposes. We have considered options for the licit cultivation of opiates in some detail and the Afghan Government have ruled out licit cultivation as a means of tackling the illicit trade. Currently there are no central Government and law enforcement mechanisms in place to administer such a scheme. In the absence of an effective control system, traffickers would be free to continue to operate and there would be a high risk that any licit cultivation would be diverted into the illegal market. Another buyer in the market might also drive up the price, attracting more farmers to cultivate poppy.
Sustainable drug elimination takes time. But if we are to succeed, the Afghan Government and the international community must embark on a vigorous and sharpened counter narcotics effort in coming years.